Men's Hoops Edged by Bearcats 76-74

by Ken Landis

ORLANDO – The UCF men’s basketball team fought its way back from another double-digit deficit to tie the game with under two minutes to play but fell by two points for the second straight contest as Cincinnati left Orlando with a 76-74 victory.

“I love our guy’s heart. I love our tenacity. That’s something I’ll never question. But we can’t make this a consistent thing. I mean, you can come back, but I want to overcome. I’m all about winning, and we’re all about winning. There are no moral victories in comebacks to me. Our guys have to understand that and that’s my stance and that’s going to be our team’s stance.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

For the second consecutive contest, UCF fell behind by double digits early, trailing by 11 at 17-6 with 5:55 gone in the ballgame.

Unphased, the Knights slowly grinded their way back, putting together a 20-11 run over the next nine and a half minutes to tie the contest at 28-28 with 4:10 to go in the first. The run got going with a Marchelus Avery jumper-and-one. Cincinnati traded the next three buckets with the Knights, but then the run got going. Shemarri Allen slammed one home and then converted on two free throws, cutting the lead to seven. Darius Johnson nailed a three-pointer to craft a quick 7-0 run.  A couple of Bearcat baskets pushed the lead back to eight, but the Knights responded with four layups, two of them on fast breaks, to level the contest.

Cincinnati pulled back ahead by seven prior to halftime, starting their 9-2 run with a jumper and a dunk. Nils Machowski got on the scoresheet for the Knights with a quick basket with 2:03 to go, but Cincinnati sunk a three-pointer and a fast break layup to finish the half, with the score reading 37-30.

The Bearcats doubled their lead before the first media timeout of the second half, going up 49-35 just 2:21 removed from the halftime locker room. UCF chopped the deficit back to seven with 14:28 to go, but again saw the lead swell back to double digits two minutes later, as Cincinnati jumped up 12 at 56-44.

The rally really got going with eight and half to play as Johnson hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 59-54. Diallo gathered an offensive rebound the next possession and laid it back in to make it a three-point game. After a Cincinnati bucket, Allen hit one-of-two free throws from the line, followed by a tough lay-in from Jaylin Sellers to trim the Bearcat lead to two.

From there, Cincinnati went back up seven with five minutes to play, but saw UCF turn right back around and make it a two-point ballgame at 67-65 in just over a minute. Johnson earned a trip to the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game, but missed the back end of the opportunity, leaving the score 67-66 with 3:17 to go.

The Bearcat lead drifted between one and three for the next 68 seconds until Johnson broke through the lane and hit a floater while drawing a foul, earning the chance for one more at the line. He converted from the stripe, tying things up at 71-71 with 1:54 remaining.

Cincinnati made its way down the floor and answered with two points on the other end, but the Knights responded on the very next possession as Sellers worked his way downhill, hitting a jump shot from just outside the paint to keep things even with 1:19 to play.

In the double-bonus, the Bearcats hit one of two from the free throw line to go up one. On the return trip down the floor, the ball was deflected out of bounds, giving the Knights another look with 39 seconds to play and 20 ticks on the shot clock. On the inbound, Johnson couldn’t connect with Sellers and the ball sailed out of play. Cincinnati took advantage and found an opening inside and laid the ball up and in to gain a 76-73 edge with 11 seconds to go.

UCF had a chance to tie the game with five seconds to go, as Johnson pulled up to shoot from beyond the three-point line. There was contact on the way down, but no foul was called as the ball sailed errant.

The Knights got a second chance to tie things up as Cincinnati’s free throw shooter missed both after being fouled at the other end. Avery collected the rebound on the second missed free throw and made his way up court. The Bearcats smartly fouled Avery before he could turn to shoot, sending him to the line for two free throws. Down three, UCF needed to make the first and hope for an intentional miss, rebound and made shot with two seconds remaining. Avery made the first and missed the second from the line, making the score 76-74. He was able to get to the offensive board but couldn’t get in position to take the shot, sealing UCF’s third straight loss.

UCF has led for just 29 seconds in the last three contests. The three-game skid is the first of the season.

The story of the night was rebounding, as Cincinnati collected 45 rebounds, the most an opponent as earned against UCF this season. Eighteen of the 45 Bearcat rebounds were on the offensive side of the ball, also a season-high against the Knights. The Black and Gold corralled just 33 boards, eight of them on the offensive glass.

The Knights did seemingly everything else they needed to do to win, staying under 10 turnovers for the third straight contest while forcing the Bearcats into 11 turnovers. UCF has forced opponents into 10 or more turnovers in all but three games this season.

The Knights will head back on the road as they visit Morgantown to square off against West Virginia for a 7 p.m. tip on Tuesday.

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